Monthly Archives: June 2010

I think the bad side of technology will do us good.

I love the New York Times. I really do. I don’t read it on a regular basis, in fact I don’t read it at all. My father-in-law does, from front page to the last, and he regularly emails me links to articles that he thinks I’d be interested in. And usually he’s right. Lately, many of the articles have been dealing with the effects of technology on our minds and hence our relationships.

It all started with an Op Ed piece by Steven Pinker. He posited that the burgeoning brew-ha-ha over how technology is short circuiting our brains is a bunch of fluff (only he says it with more mature words and scientific techno-babble). He set off a small maelstrom of letters to the editor by people upset over what they perceive as the downfall of intercommunications because we’re all de-evolving into a Twittering species. They fear humans will lose their ability to fully connect, to be social beings, and to develop fully-functioning interpersonal relationships.

It makes for interesting reading. I always find it fascinating when people find yet another reason why we’re all going to hell in a hand basket. I’ve never found one of those reasons or theories to hold water at the level of drama and fear the discoverers hope to engender. The thing is, it seems to me that just about everything goes in cycles.

Remember when malls started popping up all over the place? There were people (anti-mallites?) who hated them and said that they were the beginning of the downfall of the current western civilization. They said we’d never spend time outside again. Our children would grow up without the benefit of sunshine. That it would only lead to the devaluation of natural and green spaces. I didn’t quite believe it. I figured we’d get tired of being inside all the time and eventually would start building old-fashioned shopping centers with open spaces, prizing our trees and grass. And, lo, we have. I’ve been to them in Florida, Texas and here in NJ. I’m sure they’re just about everywhere now.

And I’m sure one day, we’ll be tired of dealing with the rain and snow and want only in-door facilities. Let’s face it, we’re never happy for long.

Which is why I think the fears of how the current trends in social media are destroying our interpersonal communication skills are all for naught. I believe all the new avenues of communicating via a phone, computer, iPad, etc. is fascinating to most people for a while, but then they’ll want the old-fashioned face-to-face chumminess of their past soon enough.

But even if I’m wrong, I’m still not concerned. I know, if indeed it is a sign that we’re headed toward an intellectual decline, not everyone will be going down with the ship. Throughout history there are always survivors of technical revolutions, right? So the way I see it, the people who will be bred out of existence because they’ve lost the ability to communicate in ways that require more than 140 characters, might just leave us with people who have something of substance to say. People who can only talk in the bullet points of a PowerPoint presentation, are not exactly my kind of people, so I doubt I’ll miss them. And people who think they really need to take the time to update their FaceBook status with things like “I woke up this morning” or “I’m bored on the train right now” will probably not be missed by anyone. If those people are left unable to breed, is that really a bad thing? As long as we’re able to keep the vowels in our alphabet, I’m sure the rest of us will be just fine.

So technology, bring on the brain damaging effects. Perhaps the herd needs a little thinning.

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Filed under Chaos, Commentary, TASFUIL

The battle ground shifted

Remember when I was fantasizing about spending the night with Bill Murray? I was in the trenches about to begin a battle with moles. Well, I must say, I think I won.

My front yard is looking good and, thanks to some foul-smelling garlic and other oils, I did it humanely. Not a head was whacked.

However, it seems I built up something of a karmic debt because I’m finding myself at war once again. Only this time it’s on my patio.

Weather permitting, I have almost zen-like moments in the mornings. I sit on a chair with a cushion so bright yellow the folks at Crayola would call it “Happy Yellow.” I drink my coffee and listen to the birds. It’s so peaceful and quiet.

It’s mornings like that when I get to pretend all is right in the world, that there is this peaceful co-existence among all beings everywhere, because it seems like the only beings anywhere are just me and the birds and we get along just fine.

I was there in one of those perfect mornings today. My coffee was just the right temp. I had a notebook on my lap. I could tell the stirrings of inspiration were about to start in my fuzzy-little mind. I looked up and realized the moon was smiling at me — at first I thought I was an upside-down smile, but after I rotated my chair, all was perfect.

And then I felt the eyes on me.

I looked to my left, and perched on the Happy Yellow chair beside me was a spider, at eye level. I’m sure it was taunting me. I almost cried. It was such hard work to be able to sit out there this morning. It was quite the battle. At one point I almost gave up. But I didn’t and I won. I really thought I won anyway.

But there was that spider suggesting otherwise.

It’s not that I’m afraid of spiders. I once did live in mortal fear of them. I always kept a can of Raid nearby and when I’d spot one who had the audacity to invade my home, I’d stand as far away as possible, hold my breath and spray for as long as I could stand on my tip toes. I’ve no idea why I was unable to do it flat-footed. Anyway, once convinced it was dead, I’d connect all the extensions to the vacuum cleaner so that I could suck it up while remaining out of reach. I’d set the vacuum outside until either my boyfriend or my very understanding neighbor could empty it for me — just in case I caught a Spider Messiah who had since resurrected himself.

I don’t know if it’s age or wisdom or if it’s because I just got tired of being afraid, but the little guys don’t scare me anymore. I don’t like them inside my house, but 20 Mule Teem Borax keeps them off my turf (though a couple times a year, after I’ve “dusted” the inside perimeter of my home with it, I’m always afraid of being suspected as a sloppy cocaine addict). So they must stay outside and I really thought they were in peaceful agreement with me.

But, I guess peace just wasn’t good enough for them. They decided to make my patio their territory. Keep in mind, it’s a small space: 8 ft. x 8 ft. On that tiny plot of land, I’ve a pot of petunias, a bunch of bromeliads and a lime tree that I keep indoors in the winter, two chairs with Happy Yellow cushions and matching ottomans, a tiny table between them and the bar-be-que grill. Once I rest my bulk in a chair and put my coffee cup on the table, there really isn’t any room for much else, not even a spider or two (hundred).

I opened the door today and wiped a daddy long-legs off the door jamb. Then I had to swish several off the cover of my favorite chair. I pulled the cover back and looked around for Alfred Hitchcock and a camera crew. It was like a horror movie. My skin is still crawling from thinking about it.

Spiders were everywhere inside the cover and all over my chair. It was an arachnid convention, extended family reunion, and Live Aid concert all wrapped up in one.

I gave up on Raid a long time ago as I decided the world was toxic enough and no longer needed me to abet its destruction. So I was left with nothing but a broom and my willful determination to sit down and enjoy a cup of coffee with the birds, damn it!

It took time. It took energy (both of which seem in short supply these days). It took a certain amount of guts, too (though my muffin top suggests I have plenty of that). And I did it. I cleared them all from my tiny piece of cement.

But apparently they’re about as tenacious as I am and they weren’t willing to let me set up camp long enough for a cup of coffee. I’m wondering if the same garlic mixture will do the job. Maybe I just need to hang cloves around my neck.

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Filed under Chaos, Good Housekeeping

I love you like a dog

Yesterday, the New York Times featured a Well Pet blog by Tara Parker Pope called “What Pets Can Teach Us About Marriage.” Ms. Pope was reviewing a previous article from PsychCentral where clinical psychologist Suzanne B. Phillips explores the difference between how people relate to their pets in contrast to their mates. Phillips poses the idea that we could have better relationships with the humans in our lives if we treat them the way we do our pets.

A couple of her ideas include always giving your spouse a rousing, happy greeting. Never holding grudges (even when the furniture is destroyed). And forgiving quickly and easily instead of taking mistakes personally.

Hmm . . . I greet my husband when he comes home, usually with a “hi” or something a little on the calm side. But honestly, I don’t think he’d want anything dog-like from me. I mean at my weight, if I jump on him, uncontrollably wagging my rear end, I’m sure I’ll knock both of us down. And what good would come from that? What if he puts me in a crate for a time out? What if he shoves me outside while he changes clothes, leaving me with nothing to do but dig holes and chase squirrels? How will I get dinner cooked?

I do agree that grudges are never good to hold — at least for long periods of time. And I think I practice what I preach. We did have a dog who tried to eat my dresser (twice), and we forgave him both times. We knew it was part of the whole separation anxiety thing and that we left him alone for too long before he was ready. The thing is, as with most poor behavior of dogs, the mistake was our fault and we knew it. It’s very easy to forgive people (and animals) when they do something wrong because of something we did. Honestly, I believe that if my husband ever chewed on the corner of my dresser because of something I did, then I’m sure I’d be quick to forgive and forget. Otherwise, he’d be on his own and I probably would hold a grudge.

Moose in a yarn mess -- a forgivable moment

I do think Dr. Phillips has a cute idea: maybe if we give our spouses unconditional love and acceptance the way we seem to give our pets, we’ll have better relationships. But I also think maybe she’s forgetting there are a couple inherent differences between humans and pets (and it has nothing to do with the fact that we have thumbs, or maybe it’s partly to do with that).

First, ultimately, we are responsible for our animals’ behavior, whether or not we consciously admit it. We train our animals, we teach them what proper behavior is, what we expect from them, etc. We take on that task because we cannot trust them to think for themselves or rely only on their instinct. If we did that, we wouldn’t love our animals so much (nor would we allow them to live in our homes or sleep in our beds). Have you ever seen feral dogs and how they live? They don’t care where they do #1 or #2, in fact they like to roll around in #2. I don’t know of many humans who would unconditionally accept that behavior on a continual basis.

The second difference is they cannot talk, read, or write letters of apology. Their only avenue of communication is via their physical body. And since we cannot read their minds, we have to admit that there must be times when we misunderstand them. Think about it, what other way can they say “I’m so glad you’re home because I’m really, really hungry, so hungry I was about to get in the trash even though I know you’d be mad at me” besides running up to you with that maniacal, happy look in their eyes that says “Yes! Yes! Yes! You’re home! This is the greatest freaking thing that has happened to me all day!”

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Filed under Commentary, Definitions, Relationships